Covid 19, Arts Council award.

I am not a landscape painter.

It was in March 2020 when we all became familiar with the term covid 19 or Coronavirus. I have to share with you my first encounter with it. We had friends who moved to China in 2019 and we have a watts app group to keep in contact. As early as November there was mentions of Corona in the group, I thought they were talking about beer. As it wasnt until March we had been accustomed to it or at least had or first introductions to the virus and what it meant. At the moment we are very much accustomed to it. Masks, hand sanitisers, social distancing, Christmas dinners with no gravy boats, that was an advisory not to share a gravy boat.

Arts Council of Ireland crisis response award.

I would like to thanks the Arts Council of Ireland for their Crisis reaponse award. There were over 900 applications and only 300 lucky applicants. Id prefer to say lucky as opposed to sucessful as Im sure all applicants were as much worthy of it.

Up to now, my practice has been very much figurative and portraiture, I use alot of empty space within my work, very pared back. During lockdown my studio had beeen closed and we were unable to get access. I had the use of this studio in town through our local Arts Department and arts officer, this is the place I get to work large scale, I mean really big. Now that I am at home I am limited to the scale, not so big. I applied for the award to use the time in lockdown and beyond to address my new lockdown surroundings and how this could be incorporated into my practice. Could it influence my work, my approach.

The sun was out and I was in the garden.

The weather was fantastic and I spent most of the time in the garden, clearing neglegted greenhouse and vegetable patches. Growing vegetables became my new practice. The creative practice was being replaced by a shovel and hoe. But observaton was even more heightened, the inner creative doesnt get to take time off or go on sabatical. No it shows up sees the contorted apple tree branch in watercolours, the vivid green courgette seedlings in sap green ink.  So I wanted to spend some time through sketch and research in an area that was alien to me as a painter. However, important to point out here very loudly, I am not a landscape painter, I really wouldnt know where to start, but I was going to show up and see how it could possibly become part of my practice. I admire Plein air painters, if it was me on the street you would have no problem recognising me, I would be the one hiding in a tent, with an easel stuck out. I am definatly an artist who works in isolation and is very content.

In the beginning, there was resistance and I felt because I wasn’t out sketching my courgettes or okra that I was failing in this undertaking. I had to be kinder to myself as I think we all have to be in this strange time, no demands on self, to be as kind as possible. I realised observation was a constant. I was doing it even if I the tool in hand was a shovel instead of a paintbrush. I was adding to the inner artist filing system, recording not only visual but emotional. Processing what was happening every day, the uncertainty, new restrictions, new concepts of how life was to be lived in the immediate future.

We were out of lockdown before I started really being able to process how and what was I going to do. I found what was incredible was through all the uncertainty even to date, I know, I am a positive, the glass half full approach. I also found out I have a high grit score, if any of you are familiar with it. Basically means I don’t give up easily. Why am I saying this, well the subjects connected through their positive symbolic presence.

I wanted to explore my surrounding in the garden the colour, shapes, presence and most of all the connection to me at this time and the value of it in my practice. However, most of this only became apparent in the wrapping up of this project.

As I said, I turned to gardening, something I love to do, I am at home in the garden. Yet I never include it in my painting. My painting is figurative,  emotional depictions of the human condition, the crisp empty spaces around the figure are I suppose synonymous with my work.

Magnolia and hope.

I realised that my approach and what inspires me will be found in all I do, even if the subject matter changes. I have found approaching painting for example the magnolia, that it was really just another figure, it had line, shape, planes, light, shadow, form. It had its own personality, presence. It could imbue an emotional response. Through this time magnolia really beacame my study. I wanted to explore colour, which I did through many mediums, watercolour, pencil, oilpaint, acrylic. On reflection of the magnolia, I realised social distancing was present even here. coincidence? perhaps. Each branch holding its own, distanced from the other. This was not a planned composition.

Magnolia.

The form of the magnolia, simplicity at its best. Life was being brought to its simplest routines, the basics, essential shopping, limited contacts only the vulnerable. Which I did have to travel twice a week to my mam in Dublin as carer. It brought home how little we need to live an enriching life, food, shelter, loved ones, health. The magnolia represents hope, the hope that there is always hope. The bud will appear and will flower, it takes its time but it will appear. We gotta trust and believe and just give it the best conditions.  Life will return to normal, I do believe, it will take time and some new ways of going about our daily business. We got to support each other, look after those who need us including our own self care. My art practice is my self care.

I am thoroughly delighted to have been awarded this time, to be honest it was always there I suppose but to be given the opportunity to give myself permission with a little financial security from the Arts council and the recognition from the council as an artist is also reassuring, especially in these times.

I gained insight into my use of colour and how I will incorporate the landscape within my practice and I already have plans for a larger painting, just need to get out of this new lockdown first.  I will post a video on Instagram and show the work discussing the process.

Emerging hope, watercolour, oil, pencil.

This was a very rewarding process and I am very thankful for the support of the Arts Council of Ireland.

Stay safe, be kind.

Bernadette